Freesat, the free-to-air satellite service jointly provided by the BBC and ITV, has officially launched following months of speculation.
The service is aimed at the one in four households which can’t currently access Freeview – the free-to-air digital terrestrial service launched in 2002 – and at those who want high-definition (HD) programmes but don’t want to sign up to a Sky or cable subscription.
Freesat will be available to 98% of homes, provided they have a satellite dish, including those who currently can’t get Freeview television.
There will initially be 80 digital TV and radio channels on the service, rising to 200 by the end of the year.
To use Freesat, you’ll have to make a one-off payment for a digital box, satellite dish and installation.
Prices start from about this level for an HD box, dish and installation
You can buy the necessary equipment from high street stores such as Comet, Currys, John Lewis and Argos.
Prices for a box start at about £120 for HD. In a spot check today, we found Comet offering installation, including a dish, from about £80.
Through Freesat, you can watch HD programmes without paying a subscription.
However, you’ll need an HD-ready TV set and an HD digital box.
It’s estimated that around 10 million homes in the UK now have a television capable of carrying HD, but most of these households don’t have a receiver or a subscription.
Which? technology editor Matthew Bath said: ‘For those 10 million consumers who own an HDTV set, the launch of Freesat is potentially great news.
‘The BBC and ITV are promising free-to-view high-definition channels over Freesat without needing to pay a monthly subscription fee – in contrast to services offered by Sky and Virgin Media.
We’re testing the new Freesat boxes and will publish our impressions in the next few days
‘We’re testing some of the just-launched Freesat boxes, and we’ll be publishing our first hands-on impressions online in the next few days.’
Last year, broadcast regulator Ofcom revealed that HD channels could be available on Freeview by 2009.
The new services would then be available as the digital switchover is rolled out the UK, with four HD channels available by 2012.
However, viewers who wanted to access the new HD services would need to buy a new set-top box or integrated television.